I disagree that we always communicate with the express purpose of affecting the conduct of the receiver. True, it is often the case that we communicate in order to reach some compromise or goal or resolution with the receiver. We may be trying to teach, bargain, beg, or cajole--all of which aim to change the conduct of the receiver.
However, other times we may communicate simply to share an idea or an emotion--simply to be heard and understood. We might tell a significant other about our day. We might publish a personal website without any particular desire to affect any particular audience, but simply to share experiences or topics of interest with whoever might wander by.
Yet Weaver does have a point when it comes to feedback about our communication. In order to determine whether the receiver is actually understanding our message, we must watch her behavior. For example, in conversation we need some sort of feedback that the receiver can hear us, understand our language, and comprehend our complete message. We at least want to see the receiver is looking at us or otherwise obviously listening. We expect a nod or comment once in a while to know that receiver is still paying attention. And we often hope to get comments or action based upon our messages. If we consider these responses as part of the receiver's conduct, it seems that we are affecting their conduct through our communication.
But where I disagree with Weaver is that this feedback--these receiver responses--is not the purpose or goal of communication. They are simply a measurable tool to determine how effectively we are communicating. It is true that we desire to communicate effectively. But I think it is important to remember the distinction between effective communication and the feedback signs that signify that effectiveness. We do not communicate solely to produce the feedback signs themselves! We may well be reaching our goal of effective communication even when those signs are not present.
Shannon and Weaver's Level A concerns how accurately signals can be transmitted. Level B is how precisely the transmitted symbols convey the desired meaning. And Level C is how effectively the received meaning affects conduct as desired by the sender.
Cherry's pragmatics level includes "all personal, psychological factors which distinguish one communication event from another, all questions of purpose, practical results, and value to sign users" (p. 221). Semantics intends to abstract all specifics away and find only how signs signify their designata. Syntax abstracts even further, and looks to see what "meaning", sense or redundancy is carried in the ordering of the signs themselves, regardless of their particular meanings.
On the surface, it seems like these two different theories are basically equivalent. However, I do not think they really are. Level A is concerned with transmission of signals, whatever those signals might be. The syntax level, on the other hand, aims to determine what rules guide message construction. These rules encode some very abstract meaning into the message based on its structural form. This is more along the lines of Shannon and Weaver's Level B, which concerns meaning.
Level B concerns how symbols convey meaning. This is most closely equivalent to the Semantics level, but also (as just mentioned) to the Syntax level. However, the Pragmatics level also concerns itself somewhat with meaning--the meaning of a specific message within its particular context.
Level C concerns effectiveness of the meanings conveyed to impact the receiver's conduct. Cherry's theory doesn't concern itself so much with effectiveness per se, though Pragmatics does include "practical results" and "purpose." Cherry's theory seems more open to other purposes for communication besides conduct-change.
So, in conclusion, we see that these two theories are not very compatible. Shannon and Weaver are using a simple progressive-levels view: signals are transmitted, those signals inherently carry meaning with them, and those meanings will affect conduct. Cherry is abstracting from a specific conversation and its context, to what symbols designate in the abstract for most people, to how those symbols are combined to form messages. Cherry seems concerned with meaning on all his levels, while Shannon and Weaver confine problems of meaning only to Level B.
Peterson, W., and A. Lew. "File Analysis and Design Notes" Department of ICS, University of Hawaii.
Shannon, Claude E. and Warren Weaver. The Mathematical Theory of Communication. Chicago?: University of Illinois Press, 19??.
Cherry, Colin. On human communication: a review, a survey, and a criticism. Cambridge: Technology Press of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1957.
CIS: Week 11
|Last Edited: 05 Nov 2004|
©2004 by Z. Tomaszewski.